From PC to connected fridge, the story of the game that ran on everything (and anything)

You’ve just bought a connected fridge with a screen, it’s big, it’s beautiful. Yes, but can it run Doom? Like life that is capable of developing 20,000 leagues under the seas, where there is a screen, humans will display Doom, the first-person shooter game from 1993 where you shoot demons with a shotgun that made its mark back in the day.

The analogy is particularly appropriate for the latest innovation. In January, Lauren “Ren” Ramlan, a research student at MIT, presented one of her projects. She made the video game display on a bed of bacteria. “Playing” is a bit of an exaggeration, since the game only displays an image every eight hours, but hey, it counts. This little feat is the latest in a long list of atypical ports of Doom to all sorts of devices, such as calculators.

“The first thing we want to do with a new machine is to make it display Doom,” confirms Sylvain Lefebvre. He works as a researcher at the Institute of Research in Digital Science and Technology. But he is above all a fan of the game who, like many others, has carried out his own tinkering: reprogramming Doom directly onto a printed circuit board, without using software. “I see it as a kind of tribute,” soberly explains the person who was already passionate about computers when the game was released.

A game made for tinkerers

Doom is an emblematic, revolutionary game for its time, explains Patrick Hellio, a video game journalist and co-author of Jeu vidéo, génération 90 (Third Editions). It has several characteristics that have attracted a community of tinkerers. “The game has a particular way of displaying 3D,” explains Sylvain Lefebvre. “It is very well-structured and there is generally little to modify in the source code.” This malleability is permitted by the work of John Carmack, the main developer, and his studio, id Software.

Doom has the particularity of always being open to modifications. Its open source code made it an ideal game for amateur mods – also known as .wad, after the file extension used. “We used to distribute CDs of ‘total conversions’ where we completely replaced the levels or graphics,” remembers Sylvain Lefebvre. This environment also encouraged porting the game to other models of computers and consoles. “There is a benchmark effect: In 1993, Doom pushes the PC gamer to its limits,” explains Patrick Hellio. “It’s also the time of a generational change in consoles, all of which had their own version of the game.”

Doom doom doom, I want you in my room

This role as a technological benchmark disappeared, briefly replaced by the game Crysis in the 2000s. But other ports emerged. In 2006, a user under the pseudonym KevlarGorilla posted a YouTube video of Doom on Nintendo DS. “I have the feeling that it was already a meme for ten years when I filmed myself,” he soberly explains to us seventeen years later. He also admits that he is not the original creator of the port and that he only recorded it, and the credit goes rather to “Legendofphil,” a user from the GBATemp tinkering forum. It is impossible to trace the trail much further: many links from the forum no longer work today, the person has not logged in since 2013 and does not seem to have left many traces elsewhere on the internet.

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This wave of unusual ports from the 2000s, on iPod for example, opened the floodgates to all sorts of challenges. Today, Doom has been launched on a pregnancy test, a Thermomix screen, and even an Ikea connected lamp. “This coincides with a multiplicity of devices with embedded screens,” states Patrick Hellio. “And there is an immediate and satisfying visual effect when you see Doom come to life. Is it to play? No. But it’s a challenge that remains relatively achievable.”

The grandfather of first-person shooter games

The legacy of Doom cannot be reduced to a simple running joke. “It laid the foundation of the FPS (first-person shooter) genre,” explains Sylvain Lefebvre. “It had very good lighting and sound for the time, an online multiplayer mode that we played until the early morning. All of these qualities set the foundation for what we expected from a video game afterwards.” “There is a before and an after Doom,” summarizes Patrick Hellio.

For a period, first-person shooter games were even called Doom-likes. The rest is history: the genre quickly became ultra-popular. Doom will have several sequels, and a reboot in two episodes in 2016 and 2020. Even very niche games are love letters to Doom, such as MyHouse.wad, a psychological horror game that plays, among other things, with the memories that many players have of the original game. So, bring out the connected coffee maker, it’s game time.

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